Six Degrees of Julia Thirteen

Who knew that so much of Glasgow's rich modern musical lineage could be traced back to the constituent parts of just one band?

Feature by Chris Cusack | 29 Jun 2011
  • Julia Thirteen

Despite having a meagre population and more than our fair share of poverty, Scotland is undoubtedly a disproportionately productive little land. That statement is especially true where music is concerned.

Inevitably, in a country with so many successful groups emerging from such a small number of people, a lot of them are friends even before they make their breakthrough. For those bands newly embarking upon a career and the fans being introduced to the hidden gems of the Scottish underground as a result, there lies an almost lost generation of world class talent that, whilst never quite cracking the greater public consciousness, have indelibly left their mark on the bands that did and the music that has emerged since.

Back at the start of this century, regular attendees of King Tut's might well have encountered a rising outfit called Julia Thirteen. Now, ten years on from their first demo, that Glaswegian sextet perfectly illustrate the tight-knit community of Scottish music and the way its many different branches criss-cross through genres and span the various levels of prominence on the global stage.

Though the six young guys involved in Julia Thirteen met with only moderate success in that original incarnation,  they've since gone on to weave themselves intrinsically into the Scottish musical legacy of the early 21st century. Bands such as The Twilight Sad, Idlewild, Aereogramme and even cult heroes The Blue Nile all bear the mark of the now defunct outfit.

Julia Thirteen formed in essence on the outskirts of Glasgow in 1999 and the core members, Jonathan Sellar, Martin Doherty and Craig “Brougge” Brownlie went on to join forces with Graeme Smillie, Brendan Smith and Jonny Scott, extinct youth centre-come-venue The Firehouse in Paisley playing no small part in their union (and that of fellow seminal outfit Torqamada).

Numerous appearances at some of the the city's most prominent venues, including Nice N Sleazy's, Barfly (or 13th Note Club for the elderly) and the aforementioned Tut's, ensued and support slots with a youthful Idlewild and Future Of The Left precursors Mclusky brought Julia Thirteen to the attentions of contemporaries.

The Glaswegian scene was gelled somewhat in late 2002 with the release of Adorno Records' pivotal “Rock Mess Monsters” compilation featuring a cross section of the vibrant scene at the time. Julia Thirteen contributed the song “Lux” and joined the likes of the still-thunderous Desalvo, enigmatic Lapsus Linguae, brittle-edged Fighting Red Adair and a certain Mr Vic Galloway's own group Huckleberry.

In 2006 the group released their only official record, the With Tired Hearts EP, originally intended as the precursor to a full album. It was recorded in part by two gentlemen named Iain Cook and Campbell McNeil, then members of Aereogramme and, at the time, also rapidly earning a reputation for their recording and production work. Though critically lauded, the reaction to the EP was sadly not enough to prevent Julia Thirteen slowly burning out. Their intended album was completed but never saw the commercial light of day and remains available online only, the publishing rights tied up by Sony BMG for the foreseeable future. With the members already starting out in other side-projects, by the December of 2006 momentum was lost and the band finally formally wrapped things up.

Yet, as the tone of this article might suggest, that was far from the end for the six gentlemen in question. New projects, many that went on to international acclaim, were quick to rise from the ashes. Lets see where it went from there...

Aereogramme / The Unwinding Hours – Before they split in 2007, Aereogramme managed to release four acclaimed albums in just under ten years and cause something of a stir in the USA in the process. Their alternating heavy/soft dynamics were instrumentally bolstered by former front-man Martin Doherty. In 2010 founder members Iain Cook (who recorded JT's unreleased album) and Craig B released a new album under the name The Unwinding Hours which has since seen contributions from Jonny Scott and Graeme Smillie.

Bad Dancer / Olympic Swimmers – Swapping synths for drums, Jonny Scott joined Graeme Smillie and the brother/sister pairing of Simon and Susan Liddell to create this simple but hugely effective post-punk group. Bridging the gap between Blondie and Interpol, Bad Dancer briefly ran concurrently with Julia Thirteen then, in 2008, wound up the former project, added Jamie Savage (brother of Chem19 maestro Paul Savage) on guitar and rebranded themselves as Olympic Swimmers, sporting a dreamier, folkier twist on the previous pop formula.

The Blue Nile – Originally formed in 1981 and enjoyed a trip to the upper echelons of the UK album charts with their '89 album Hats. Brendan Smith joined the cult Glaswegian alternative pop band on keyboards in 2006, albeit under the slightly unwieldy name 'Paul Buchanan sings the songs of The Blue Nile'.

Emma Pollock – Delgados and Chemikal Underground founder Pollock struck out on her own after the demise of her former band. Her debut record Watch The Fireworks was released on former Pixies label 4AD and both Graeme Smillie and Jonny Scott continue to be mainstays in her touring and recording band.

Fruit Tree Foundation – Spearheaded by Idlewild founder Rod Jones and Emma Pollock of The Delgados, this project was set up to bring attention to the issues of mental health and contribute to the fine work of The Scottish Mental Health Arts And Film Festival. Incorporating the services of a variety of familiar faces from the contemporary scene, including James Graham (Twilight Sad), Scott Hutchison (Frightened Rabbit) and James Yorkston, last year's album was a triumph and, in Jones' own words, “wouldn't have happened” without the help of the dynamic rhythm duo of JT's Smillie and Scott.

Idlewild – Four Edinburgh upstarts that have grown into national treasures since their inception in 1995, expanding to a 5 piece in the early 2000s with the addition of Allan Stewart, also of Desalvo, on second guitar. Idlewild's tour with Pearl Jam in 2003 marked a watershed in their career as they performed to capacity arenas (and notable celebrities) across the United States. Appearances on Saturday Night Live also saw them securing live audiences in the region of 65 million. Both Jonny Scott and Graeme Smillie stepped up on separate occasions to help with live performances.

My Cousin I Bid You Farewell / Jonathan Sebastian Knight – Armed with a powerful and distinctive voice, Jonathan Sellar immediately pursued his own compositions when Julia Thireen folded. First going under the moniker My Cousin I Bid You Farewell, which periodically incorporated a number of other musicians including Chris Flew (The One Who Flew), Andy McGlone (Holy Mountain) and Johnny Docherty (Take A Worm For A Walk Week). Since then he has increasingly pursued his emotive, minimalist solo project Jonathan Sebastian Knight, supporting the likes of Sleigh Bells amongst others. Two new EPs are due for release this summer under the latter incarnation along with some thus-far unavailable MCIBYF recordings.

Sons And Daughters – Following the release of their 3rd album  This Gift, the Glaswegian quartet drafted in JT four-stringer Graeme Smillie when bassist Ailidh Lennon took maternity leave. Two well-received earlier records and a tour with a little-known gent called Morrissey had already gone some way to help this group secure a loyal following. Now in the tenth year of their career, their fourth album Mirror Mirror is released on 13 June on Domino Records.

Strike The Colours – Fronted by violinist, guitarist and singer Jenny Reeve, who has unassumingly contributed to the work of numerous Scottish acts including The Reindeer Section and Idlewild, Strike The Colours are fundamentally completed by her long-term collaborator Davy McAulay (previously of Terra Diablo) plus Graeme Smillie and Jonny Scott of JT. Their subtle folk-infused dramatic pop has already birthed two excellent albums with a third due towards the end of 2011.

Take A Worm For A Walk Week – Having settled into his new role as a drummer with frightening ease, Jonny Scott joined forces with members of former Paisley Firehouse graduates Torqamada (who had split shortly after recording in Los Angeles with Amen's Casey Chaos). What ensued was one of the most intimidating, compelling explosions of experimental hardcore to emerge from the UK. Their recently released third album TAWFAWW is something terrifying and special.

The Twilight Sad – Kilsyth's greatest export were augmented in 2008 by JT's Martin Doherty who performs backing vocals, keyboard and additional guitar. Signed to New York's Fat Cat label after only their 3rd gig the group have enjoyed almost unanimous critical acclaim to date. Their third album, mooted for the end of 2011, is said to more heavily incorporate keyboard into their traditionally sprawling, shoegaze sound.

To hear Julia Thirteen's collated works visit www.myspace.com/juliathirteen or find them on Facebook, Soundcloud or Last FM

http://www.myspace.com/juliathirteen